Voters Appear Content With Legislatures--For Time Being

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

In contrast to the turmoil created by the voters in the nation's governorships, this month's elections brought little immediate change in the legislatures, experts on state politics said last week.

The 45- to 50-seat overall gain achieved by the Democrats Nov. 6 was the smallest partisan shift in the legislatures in three decades, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

While six incumbent governors went down to defeat and eight open seats changed partisan hands, only a few states saw many incumbent legislators defeated. "The legislative results basically indicated an endorsement of the status quo," said Steven D. Henriksen, who followed the elections as a consultant to the Education Commission of the States.

Even so, approval of term-limitation measures in Colorado and California on Election Day could be a harbinger of much greater statehouse shifts in the future, analysts said, and could foster important changes among lawmakers involved in education legislation.

Virtually all state legislators in California, Colorado, and Oklahoma--where voters approved a term4limitation initiative in September--may have to give up their seats within the next 12 years as a result of the initiatives.

Officials of national organizations monitoring the elections predicted that the success of these initiatives and widespread voter dissatisfaction with government is likely to lead other states to consider similar measures in coming years.

Election officials cautioned that the results released in most states last week were preliminary and subject to change after recounts.

Although their total pickup amounted to a only tiny fraction of the 6,144 seats up for election, Democrats did manage to slightly strengthen their hand in setting legislative agendas and in controlling the redistricting process under the 1990 Census, Mr. Henriksen said.

With 60 percent of all seats, Democrats now have control of both chambers in 30 states, an increase of one over 1988. Republicans now control both chambers in only five states, a decrease of four.

Moreover, Democrats appear to have added two states to the 15 in which they accounted for all three key players in the redistricting process--the two legislative chambers and the governorship. Republican control of state "redistricting triads" was reduced from four states to three, said Mickey Ibarra, political-advocacy manager in the office of governmental relations of the National Education Association.

The nea had made Democratic control of the redistricting process for the U.S. House one of its key election goals.

All told, nine states experienced swings in the partisan control of a legislative chamber.

Democrats tied the previously Republican-held Senates of Alaska and Idaho, and captured from the gop the Senates of Arizona, Montana, and Nevada, and the Houses of Indiana and Kansas.

Republicans took control of the Oregon House from the Democrats and tied the previously Democrat-held Vermont Senate.

Legislative analysts and education group lobbyists in several of the states where legislative chambers transferred partisan control said it was too early to predict how the changes would affect education policy.

But some observers said the shifts in power in their states were clear enough to allow them to offer predictions, including:

Montana, where Democratic control of the Senate should make it easier to fight off attempts to undo a 1989 measure that increases the state share of school funding, according to Eric Feaver, president of the Montana Education Association.

Nevada, where Democratic control of the Senate will help block the passage of parental-choice and merit-pay plans, according to Debbie K. Alviar, director of government relations for the Nevada State Education Association.

Arizona, where "the whole tenor" of the Senate has changed due to the defeat of several members of a large bloc of conservative Republicans that had successfully impeded many education-related measures, said Mary K. Haviland, director of government relations for the Arizona Education Association.

A court fight is possible before California's Proposition 140, which limits assemblymen to three two-year terms, senators to two four-year terms, and the schools chief, governor, and other officials to two terms of lifetime service, goes into effect.

Opponents of the measure, led by Speaker of the House Willie Lewis Brown Jr., argue that the initiative is an unconstitutional infringement of voting rights because it deprives voters in districts that voted against it of the right to keep their incumbent legislators.

Mr. Brown also asserts that the measure is harmful to racial minorities, who need long-tenured incumbents to protect their interests in a white-majority legislature.

Also possible are challenges to the Colorado constitutional amendment limiting senators to two four-year terms and representatives to four two-year terms, and the Oklahoma initiative, which limits legislators to 12 years of lifetime service.

John L. Myers, education pro8gram director of the n.c.s.l., predicted that the spread of such ballot measures could have a significant impact on legislative education committees.

Term limits could accelerate a current trend, Mr. Myers said, in which the chairmanships of education committees are being held less often by senior legislators who occupy them for long terms and more often by ambitious junior legislators seeking experience that will benefit them later in their political careers.

Vol. 10, Issue 12

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories